I reached out to Dublin City University Anime and Manga society’s (AMS’s) Christie McBride as part of my ‘Laymans Introduction to Comic Books’ series. DCU AMS is one of the most prolific comic book communities in Ireland, and they are closely linked to the Eirtakon Convention which takes pace in Dublin annually as you will learn more about below.
Christie gave me some extremely interesting insight into what she feels being a comic book fan is all about – the highs and the pitfalls. Enjoy.
What got you into comic books?
I got into comics in general by way of cartoons- I’d been watching animated shows on Cartoon Network and Nickleodeon and all the children’s channels since I had any kind of input on what I could watch television wise, when I realised there was more to the X-Men it just seemed natural to go get the more. With regards to manga and anime, I picked up volume 1 of Fushigi Yugi back in 2004/5 and was almost immediately hooked.
Do you consider yourself an eccentric fan?
Eccentric is kind of a complicated way of putting it. For someone who isn’t into comics or anime, I would definitely be eccentric. I suspect within fan culture I’m fairly typical, except perhaps a margin more extroverted than the traditional model. Within most fan cultures/fandoms eccentricity is a relative concept– definitely within a lot of the more exclusive/esoteric fan communities for stuff like comics and anime there’s often a sense of “we aren’t like those people” when referring to a group that takes their fannishness too far or are considered to be inappropriate in their expression of their enjoyment of a medium. I’m not involved with the My Little Pony fandom, but that would be an example of the “far out” fandoms that get made into scapegoats. Most of my comic and manga interests are considered either mainstream or tame within the overall culture, so in that respect I wouldn’t be eccentric. Interest in cartoons and comics would make me eccentric in other contexts less specific to the community.
Do you think you have to be a certain type of person to get into comic books?
There’s a stereotype about the kind of person that’s interested in comic books, but it’s very similar to most stereotypes in being very inaccurate. There’s a variety of people that are into comics, people of almost all walks of life. I think generally people who like artwork or particular ongoing forms of narrative have the potential to become interested in comic books. In my experience, people can get interested in comics at any stage in their lives, and come from almost every walk of life (I won’t say every walk of life, I’m sure there are paths that never intersect with comics).
Do you think there’s a snobbery facing people who want to get into comic books?
Gatekeeping is a huge issue, it’s a monumental concern in terms of the artform continuing in a lot of respects. If someone admits ignorance in certain circles of the comic fan community, they often risk losing some amount of respect within those same circles. When I was getting into comics as a teenager, I was so afraid of being “caught out” at being new that I would literally study comic wikis and forums and every trade I owned. I wrote out about the same amount of notes on the specifics of Nightcrawler’s origin as I did that year on the primary themes of To Kill a Mockingbird.
There’s a sort of perception, particularly regarding girl fans (in my experience, I’d hate to suggest that there’s a universal anti-girl attitude within the geek community, I know a lot of great guys in the comic fan world) about their legitimacy and how valid their interests are. I was actually quizzed fairly often about my favourite characters and various storylines, just to make sure I wasn’t a “Fake Geek Girl” which was mildly stressful to say the least. I think this attitude is disappearing though, people seem to be less dismissive of new fans and more welcoming. I know people appreciate it when they’re given the space to learn about something they’ve recently begun to love, so hopefully this could mark the beginning of a population growth within comic fandoms.
Do you think the same type of person that’s into comic books be able to equally get into sport?
I’d prefer to take it on a case-by-case basis. I know people who are into both sport and comic books, but generally got into them simultaneously. I think this might also be an age related question, as it can be harder to get into sport as a player if you haven’t been involved before. In terms of fans of watching sport, it’s definitely possible, but in terms of probability balances it would definitely depend on the person.
Do you think people who get into comic books are victims of a sort of ‘social pigeonholing?’
I think that can happen. I don’t know if it always happens, but it can definitely create an environment where someone feels compelled to “pick sides” between things that aren’t necessarily diametrical opposites. Sport and comic books, in this case. Stereotypes and stigma are pretty significant influences on how this happens, I know it’s pretty common for the stigma to matter more to the person who’s into comics than someone who knows them but isn’t into comics, and I think that feeling of anxiety regarding the judgement of your interests can create a need to seek out people you feel won’t judge you, even if you aren’t really being judged.
Do you think it’s a bit hypocritical that traditionally hardcore sports fans or things like that look down on comic book fans for a similar obsession/interest?
I think it’s definitely a kind of dissonance. There is definitely a sense of “this is for kids” relating to comic books and cartoons, which is part of why that happens. However, I’ve seen similar condescension going in the other direction based on the stereotype of sport fans being less academically minded. I think definitely the barrier that’s been sort of artificially constructed and maintained has led to some degree of misunderstanding. This happens with fans of other topics as well, for instance certain genres of music or fashion (the classic emos versus preps and so forth). I think that in these cases it’s mildly hypocritical, but it comes from a place where those making these assertions don’t really realise that someone really liking something that they don’t is not actually an invalidation of their own interests.There’s a sense for me that there needs to be more acceptance of difference.
Do you think the release of all these superhero films helps take the stigma of liking comic books down?
I really think they’ve helped. Obviously a lot of the stigma came from a place of ignorance, not really understanding what the appeal of comic books could be to anyone over the age of twelve essentially (even while most comic book fans have been adults for some time). I think also it’s helping to sort of usher in a new generation of comic books fans, which is important with the dwindling fanbase. I think the movies have made a huge difference to the perception of comic book fans.
What’s your favourite aspect of being a comic book fan?
For me it’s probably the people I’ve met. The community as a whole, and the members of the comic book fan community that I’ve actually interacted with have been a really uplifting experience. I’ve made a lot of great friends and learnt a lot of new things. I also really enjoy bringing people “into the fold” as it were. I love that moment of “wow, this is really good” that can come about when you show someone a comic book and it clicks for them. For me it’s hugely a collaborative experience, getting a chance to exchange ideas and viewpoints and theories. I really enjoy it.
What do you, as the chair of anime/manga soc in DCU aim to do to bring in new readers? Or are you just looking to take in people who are already interested?
This year I’m looking to do a revamp of the current take-in model. I love AMS and I’d really like to take in as many new members as possible. I’m hoping to work in connection with a lot of the current societies in AMS to do joint events, which we really haven’t done a lot of recently. I’m definitely planning to work with the Japanese society, and also the book society which I think could really help to bring in new readers, particularly if we can get the word regarding our library of manga properly out there. The old model focused mostly on getting existing fans of anime and manga, which is great and I plan to continue doing, and I would also like to try and encourage new readers. There’s a lot of opportunity for growth, I think, and I’d like to take full advantage of it.
What exactly is AMS’s role in Eirtakon?
AMS basically facilitates the running of Eirtakon. While the committees for Eirtakon and AMS are different groups of people, certain core members of the AMS committee also occupy roles on the Eirtakon committee. AMS also funds Eirtakon and stores equipment, as as electing the Director of Eirtakon every year. AMS committee members are also involved in a lot of the logistics of Eirtakon.
How much work goes into that?
That’s a complicated question, I think we all feel the responsibility differently, and some of us are also “double members” with regards to committee roles. I’m Chair of AMS, which means I’m considered part of Eirtakon’s directorship, and I’m also Eirtakon’s PR officer. There’s a great deal of dedication from all the members of the committee, obviously. We put a lot of effort into making the best convention we possibly can, but some of us wouldn’t necessarily consider it work. It’s a fantastic experience,
Are you going to many comic cons this year?
I’m going to decent amount. I’ve already been to Anime Dublin, and I’ll definitely go to a few over the summer. And obviously I’m going to Eirtakon!
Do you think that certain comic book fans want to have their niche?/Do you think they willingly look for stuff nobody’s heard of?
Absolutely. There are fans who either by accident end up liking obscure comics,and there are also those who feel that by liking stuff outside of the mainstream that their interests are more authentic. The niche aspect is another thing, I suspect that some aspects of comic book fandom do enjoy having something of an enclave. I don’t think this is exclusive to comic book culture, though. You can see it with music, TV, literature, almost anything. I think in comics the fans of obscure stuff might be a little more vocal, or maybe I just experience more of them by way of being in the community.
If you liked this article and want to read more, have a look at my other interviews from the ‘Layman’s introduction to comic books’ series HERE. Feel free to like, comment and subscribe.